Learning the art of Ikebana at Nadi Al Quoz

In Dubai’s industrial heartland, the creative hub Alserkal Avenue gives the city’s residents a summer social club in which they can learn new arts and crafts skills

The traditional art of flower arranging in Japan is deliberate and spare. Each flower stem is placed with care, according to the strict rules of 'ikebana,' as the practice is known. But you don’t have to go all the way to Japan to experience it; ikebana has come to Dubai.

“Ikebana is definitely art, not science,” says Harue Oki, an ikebana second master. “There is a form and regulations. But even after following the discipline, there is some creativity you can add.”

Armed with six stems each – three red and three white flowers – Oki is giving a small group in Dubai a flavour of the principles of ikebana. The workshop is part of a summer-long programme of events conjured up by Alserkal Avenue, Dubai’s arts hub, to while away hot summer days and introduce the city’s residents to new activities. Alserkal’s programme, Nadi Al Quoz (‘nadi’ means club), runs until October 29 with events ranging from free yoga sessions to evening talks from local artists, architects and musicians.

The 10  participants have gathered for the second time to sample the art of ikebana. The first class tackled arrangements with stems standing tall – known as rikka; this time, they are grappling with angles and trying to get their flowers to stay at 45 degrees – with varying success. But true to Oki’s prediction, all ten arrangements are different.

“[Ikebana] requires more concentration than western styles [of flower arranging],” says Mercy Burton, a Delhi resident on holiday in Dubai to visit her daughter; mother and daughter are attending the class. Yet, the concentration pays off. “It’s a simple way of arranging flowers with minimum resources,” says Dubai-based Femina Salim, another participant. “The beauty lies in the simplicity.”

The art of ikebana has its roots in Japanese Buddhist rituals, in which flowers were offered to the spirits of the dead. The practice evolved over the centuries into a more decorative art – revered as much as paintings or sculpture – as a way for humans to appreciate nature. Today, there are many different ikebana styles, from rikka (standing flowers), seika or shoka (consisting of three parts), to nageire (flung flowers). Empty space is praised.

Ikebana became one of the essential skills, along with the tea ceremony and knowing how to tie a kimono, that all young ladies up to her mother’s generation had to master before marriage, says Oki.

“I first learned about ikebana when I was 15-years-old, but I was too young to appreciate it,” she says. “But after I travelled and visited many countries, I realised it is something we should be proud of and that we have to keep it [as a tradition].”

Oki, who teaches ikebana all over the UAE, has seen its popularity grow in the two years she has lived in Dubai. It is an example of the growing trend for all things Japanese in the emirate, which does not lack for sushi bars or – the latest craze – Japanese bakeries.

“Everybody respects and likes Japanese culture, perhaps because traditional art was missing in this region,” says Oki. “People are getting more in to simplicity and minimalism, which is exactly the ikebana way.”